April 27, 2004
Week 23, Day 2
6 Iyar 5764  

Parashat Acharei Mot-K'doshim, Leviticus 16:1--20:27
(Found in The Torah: A Modern Commentary on pages 863-906)

The Fight for Equality
By Rabbi Michael Namath

President Bush's decision to endorse a Constitutional Amendment that would ban states from extending the legal protections of civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples is deeply troubling. Jewish values and American history require individuals to speak out against this egregious proposal to enshrine discrimination against a specific group of citizens and intolerance of specific religious beliefs into our nation's most sacred document.

The fight for equality is uniquely tied to the history of this nation. From the suffrage movement, to the civil rights movement, to the gay rights movement, minorities in this country have worked tirelessly to achieve equal rights as guaranteed to them by the founding visions of the United States. It is this history and this sense of morality that compels condemnation of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Opposition to this amendment comes from the very basic belief that all human beings are created b'tzelem Elohim (in the Divine image), as it says in Genesis 1:27, "And God created humans in God's image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them."

If we believe that all people are made b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and that the diversity of humanity reflects the vastness of the Eternal One then we must act in that manner. Each individual is inherently valuable, and in this spirit, we must embrace our diversity and demand equality for all.

In Judaism, it is taught that the family serves as the fundamental institution of society - families rooted in love between two committed, caring adults - and families devoted to raising children in a loving, supportive environment. Families of loving gay and lesbian couples are capable of creating a nurturing environment for children, and the unions of loving gay and lesbian couples are worthy of affirmation through Jewish ritual.

There is tremendous value in the diversity of religious traditions. Respect for the beliefs of people whose religions are opposed to same-sex marriages is part of that diversity. No one would ever want any clergy member, synagogue, or church forced to sanctify a same-sex religious wedding if he or she did not want to. But an amendment to the Constitution is not necessary to protect that freedom. The government will never force religious institutions to recognize, sanctify, or condone any marital union. In fact, this national debate in which we are embroiled has nothing to do with religious wedding ceremonies. Regardless of what our politicians decide, some religions will continue to sanctify same-sex marriages, and some never will. Civil marriage must be differentiated from religious marriage - because religious marriage is an institution and a religious concept that must remain the domain of religion, but civil marriage is a set of legal protections and benefits that the government grants based on the possession of a civil marriage license. Not all religions should have to recognize same-sex religious marriage, yet at the same time, the government must give equal protection to all its citizens and equal respect to all its religions.

Such discriminatory legislation is not about protecting families. Certainly, my family will not be hurt by giving the states the freedom to recognize the committed spiritual relationship of two loving adults. How can two loving adults coming together to form a beautiful family harm family values? Are our families and marriages and communities so fragile and shallow that they are threatened by the love between two adults of the same sex? We must work to ensure that such an effort to enshrine homophobia, intolerance, and inequality in our Constitution fails and does so by an overwhelming margin.

We are all God's children. We are all one people. Let us stop issuing decrees of hatred and begin enacting legislation and implementing policies that will foster healthy, loving, caring, and committed relationships. Let us ensure that in this nation, none will ever again be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or religious conviction.

Rabbi Michael Namath is the program director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism..

The Union for Reform Judaism: Serving Reform Congregations in North America proudly announces our 15th annual summer Kallot, adult study and spirituality retreats, to take place July 7 - 11 at University of California Santa Cruz and July 21-25 at Franklin Pierce College, Rindge, NH. The theme for both kallot is HeChalutz, The Pioneer : Where and When Jews Reinvented Judaism. For more information go to the Kallah Website or contact Sina Clark, Kallah Registrar at 212.650.4087 or educate@urj.org. A limited number of partial scholarships are available on a first come - first served basis

To join the Religious Action Center's RACNEWS and receive legislative updates on these and other issues of concern go to the Religious Action Center's website.

For more information and recommended reading go to:
URJ Press.


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